Aveny lowered herself onto a fallen log with a sigh. She relished the revitalizing sensation of soft, green moss swelling abundantly beneath her. A smile danced across her lips as she watched Luca, Brecken and Tali charge up Seminary Hill in hot pursuit of their father. Brand lived for moments like this. He laughed, slowed his pace to bait the kids, then accelerated just out of their reach, calling, “You’ll never take me alive!”
The kids unleashed a united war cry and charged after their prey, brandishing mossy sticks like swords. Brand glanced back to assess his pursuers and skidded on a muddy patch, his arms pinwheeling outward as he struggled to stay upright. Recovering himself, he looped back around and issued a surprise counterattack.
As Aveny watched, she stretched her legs and twisted her torso to ease the tension in her back. She rolled her neck from side to side, the joints cracking softly in response. Her whole body ached. She hadn’t slept well in weeks, each night haunted by remnants of that same horrific dream. Even now, the nightmare clung to the edges of her psyche like a rabid wolf refusing to relinquish its prey. Although, last night had been different.
Last night, the blackness had returned and, with it, that hauntingly familiar cry. But when Aveny finally awoke, trembling and gasping for breath, she was still trapped. She didn’t realize it at first – not until she climbed out of bed and walked into the living room. As she passed the couch, her mind still entangled in the black abyss, her feet lost contact with the floor.
She didn’t fall.
Instead, she began floating upward. She attempted to grasp hold of something – anything – but it was useless. She tumbled up, away from the ground, as if gravity had reversed its pull. She hoped the ceiling would save her, but it was no more effective than a net trying to contain the ocean.
The alarm at losing her grip on earth wasn’t what haunted her now.
It was that last look at the living room – her home. She was losing everything. Everything.
Aveny had never mourned inanimate objects but this – the abrupt loss of everything from the toy-littered couch to the cheerios her daughter had haphazardly scattered across the floor – it was unbearable. Even her notepad on the end table was beyond her reach. It was gone, all gone, just like that. She wasn’t prepared for the vacuous emptiness of departing alone.
The feeling of loss was so deeply profound, she had been unable to shake it all day.
Aveny shifted uncomfortably, webs of grief clinging to her soul like the moss on her log. She slowed her breathing and inhaled, relishing the deep pine scent. Its refreshing aroma made her feel slightly better. Above, the sun glinted through the leaves, casting patches of warmth across her face like kisses from God. Aveny loved it here, in the woods of Western Washington. This had surprised her at first.
Aveny thought she knew the forest. She’d certainly spent enough time in it, growing up in Montana. She was raised on countless hikes and camping excursions – most of which were spent in a state of petulant resentment. Her younger self disliked being removed from the comforts of home and thrust into the wilderness. The trees offended her. The dry grass was unbearable. Even the fresh air felt harsh and raw in her lungs. Something about the woods irritated her. They made her itch – both figuratively and literally.
Aveny was allergic to everything that grew. When her grandmother took her to the pediatric allergist, the resulting scratch test came back positive for every single one of the 50 test substances – except one: cherry trees. This random omission was represented by a single patch of cool, smooth skin, standing like an island amid a sea of fiery red. Too bad there weren’t cherry forests in Montana.
Her dislike of all wilderness followed her well into adulthood. She’d disliked forests in Utah, South Dakota and Wisconsin – every place she and Brand had lived, and all of the many places they’d traveled in their first decade of matrimony.
But all that changed when they moved to Washington just two short years ago. The forest was different here. Full and rich. Confident and robust. Soothing. Less … desperate.
Around her ancient trees massaged their roots deep into the soggy earth like a baker kneading dough. They weren’t stuck in the ground – they intertwined with it. Bound by this powerful embrace, their massive trunks rocketed skyward, their branches grazing the very heavens. Their boughs arced across the atmosphere like a mother tenderly brushing the face of her sleeping child. And below, every millimeter teemed with life.
Moss dripped from their imposing trunks like wool from a shedding sheep. Mushrooms blossomed from dark spaces. And new trees erupted from the abandoned husks of their fallen ancestors. Aveny loved pressing her hands into the sensuous blanket of growth that enwrapped them. The delicate organisms seemed to embrace her in return.
Above, behemoth cobwebs of ivy twisted into branches, dancing from limb to limb, stretching across the expanse. Ferns burst forth like a million tiny fireworks. They found root in the ground and in the soil-less crooks of towering branches, seemingly requiring neither earth nor security to thrive.
Aveny loved trailing her fingers along the ferns’ curling fronds as she passed. Their soft caress sent sparkling electric waves up her arms and down her back as she stroked their soft plumage.
Aveny could breathe here – deeper than ever before. Elsewhere, the wilderness had always felt hot … hard … dry. It was loud and abrasive – too close, too intense. But here, Aveny could feel it enveloping her like a mother’s embrace, hydrating and healing her very soul.
Washington fit Aveny like a second skin.
She and her family had relocated to the northwestern-most state when Brand accepted a firefighter position at Joint Base Lewis McChord. They’d found a perfect and – more importantly – affordable home in nearby Centralia, a small town just south of the southern tip of Puget Sound. Although it started as a match of convenience, Aveny fell in love with her new home from the outside in.
If a line was drawn from Seattle to Portland, and another from the forests of Mount Rainier to the Pacific Ocean, their new home would fall directly in the crosshairs. As they say, location really is everything. And for Aveny, who often grew restless, this location was ideal.
Her adoration for the place grew from there. She took a job editing an online positive news publication and, since she worked remotely, spent many weekdays working in a local coffee shop.
She loved the calming smells and sounds of her “office.” Some days, she’d select a barstool right in the middle of the action. Others, she’d retreat to a secluded balcony table for undisturbed solitude (although she’d inadvertently scared off more than one pair of teenagers rounding second base up there).
Aveny and her family grew more invested every day. Step by step, exposure by exposure, it became home in a way nowhere else ever had before.
In the decade since they wed, she and Brand had moved 11 times. While Aveny loved the freedom of flying unhindered from place to place, she had begun to feel the growing strain of it on her husband and each child who longed to set down roots.
When they picked Washington, it was with the understanding that this might be that place. So far, it was.
And when Aveny got itchy and the need to run coursed through her veins – like it always inevitably did – she hoped her surroundings would be enough. After all, she could just pick a direction. Whether it was the culture of Olympia, the art of Tacoma, the culinary delights of Seattle or the quirky atmosphere of Portland, there was always somewhere to go. Or she could shed society all together and venture into the ancient forests of Mount Rainier or – her favorite – head west to the sea where all her mental chaos was swallowed up in the ocean’s imposing enormity.
It had worked so far. Aveny’s first two years in Washington were filled with adventure. She and her family strolled the beaches of Puget Sound and played with the miniscule crabs they found capering among the rocks. They ventured into the woods on long camping excursions, hiked through giant Douglas Fir forests and forged babbling glacial creeks. They boarded a whale-watching ship and, after two hours of gut-impaling seasickness (Aveny never was great atop the waves) finally witnessed the majestic black and white markings of a killer whale pod.
Aveny loved every minute of this real-life magic. She was finally daring to believe that home and adventure may not be mutually exclusive after all. She just hoped this more stable life wasn’t – as she always feared it was – incompatible with her very nature; that the diversity around her could keep that ever-present urge to run at bay.